Two rules of American politics have been violated in spectacular fashion. One you know about. One you’re probably just hearing about. Both make you wonder how desperate a person must be to willingly walk into the propeller blades like this.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer blundered his way into (re)learning a lesson of American politics: Never, ever, ever invoke Adolph Hitler or the Nazis to explain anything. Ever. You’d think Spicer would know this given his long years as a political communicator for the Republican Party.
“You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said during the daily briefing on Tuesday. The failed history student then compounded the problem when asked to clarify. “I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” he said to the satisfaction of no one in that room or across the country.
When asked to clarify, Spicer then went on to compare and contrast the evil of Hitler and Syrian slaughterer Bashar al-Assad. “There was not in the, he brought them into the Holocaust center, I understand that,” Spicer said in an inexplicable ramble. “What I am saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent, into the middle of towns.” [Insert dramatic squirrel here] Coming on the first day of Passover, Spicer’s affront was especially egregious.
To his credit, after a few more failed attempts to clarify what he meant, Spicer submitted to the withering questioning of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to apologize. A rare moment of contrition from an administration allergic to such humility.
Carter Page, who then-candidate Donald Trump identified as a foreign policy adviser in a meeting with The Post’s editorial board, is the violator of another rule of American politics: Never ever, ever compare yourself in any way whatsoever to Martin Luther King. Ever.
In The Post’s blockbuster revelation on Wednesday, “The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of [Page], part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign.” The story reports that the agency was able to get to the warrant against Page “after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia.”
In an interview with The Post, Page said, “This confirms all of my suspicions about unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance.” The reporters then noted that Page “compared surveillance of him to the eavesdropping that the FBI and Justice Department conducted against civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.”
This casual invocation of King by Page simultaneously elevates the latter to the noble level of the former and by doing so belittling King’s work and ultimate sacrifice to make this a more perfect union. To appropriate and paraphrase a classic rejoinder by the late Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) against Page, “you are no [Martin Luther King].”
But Page is not the first person to use the example of King as a shield against accountability or make themselves or their actions appear more honorable. NSA leaker and current-Russia resident Edward Snowden, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, conservative firebrand Glenn Beck are among them.
And so the pattern persists. Folks seek to deflect by summoning what they believe is the protective muse of Hitler and King. They are rightly slapped for having done so. And then, with the passage of time, a new controversy will emerge involving a new antagonist who will run for cover by trying to stand in the glow of King’s halo or appear to make their situation look better in comparison to the evil of Hitler.
Neither is okay. Spicer and Page prove that this lesson is never learned.
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